“The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.” (Ralph Waldo Emerson). That’s what drives so many of us to this work: using our talents and skills to make a difference. And a lot of people are depending for better lives on our ability to manage us, so that we can make the difference they so desperately require.
But the day-to-day of running or working in a nonprofit, especially a small one, can be consuming. Bills need to be paid, insurance policies must be reviewed and renewed. Social media pages and websites need to be monitored and updated. Donations must be processed, donors thanked and grants pursued. Attention must be paid to cultivating, educating and harnessing board members and their talent. Every day of every week brings a new barrage of email, phone calls, and meetings. And then, of course, there is the real work that you felt called to do: serving the mission of your organization. How does that important work get done?
The short answer is that it won’t. Not unless you become an excellent manager of yourself.
This isn’t an original idea and I should know because I’m no spring chicken. While I was in college, The Seeds of Greatness by Dennis Waitley was being hawked as the “the only self-help book you’ll ever need.” It’s a good, interesting book and something you should read if you have the time. Waitley argues that there are 10 seeds of greatness, keys to living a fruitful, happy and successful life. He surmises that:
[i]n the end, we are all the sum total of our actions. Character cannot be counterfeited, nor can it be put on and cast off as if it were a garment to meet the whim of the moment. Like the markings on wood which are ingrained in the very heart of the tree, character requires time and nurturing for growth and development. Thus also, day by day, we write our own destiny; for inexorably … we become what we do. (D. Waitley. The Seeds of Greatness: The Ten Best-Kept Secrets of Total Success, p. 78).
In the 1990’s, Stephen Covey’s, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People was all the rage. (The 25th Anniversary edition of the book came out in 2013 and it remains the 13th most read book on Amazon). We were admonished at all costs to manage our lives in such a way so as to stay in “Quadrant II” (shown below), focusing on things that are “important” but “not urgent:”
This was just slightly before the era of smart phones and tablets. We can easily imagine the quadrant in which those would be found and the additional admonishments as to their excessive use. It’s hard to argue, however, with the attractiveness of “Quadrant II.” Nice work if you can get it.
As the Internet has grown and the ability to publish anything anytime has expanded exponentially, the number of books, blogs and websites devoted to self-help, leadership and productivity has proliferated. I’m doing my best to find and chronicle what I think are the best of these for small nonprofits on my Resource Page. One book that has taken on a life of its own is The Miracle Morning. In it, author Hal Elrod explains the importance of developing a “morning routine” with six components: (1) purposeful silence (meditation); (2) affirmations; (3) visualization; (4) exercise; (5) reading; and (6) writing. This book has, in turn, spawned a number of new hard-copy personal journals and related applications, such as The Five-minute Journal, shown below. (I use the Android App version of the Five-minute Journal – see my Resource Page for a link). It’s hard to argue with this advice: get up, meditate, exercise, journal and do it all before you get to the office and all hell breaks loose.
Michael Hyatt, the self-proclaimed virtual mentor of individuals desiring to succeed in business, put together a pretty nifty, short e-book, entitled, Shave 10 Hours Off Your Workweek. In it, he outlines four simple tactics designed to improve your productivity: (1) Boost your energy (get enough sleep, take a daily nap, exercise, maintain a positive attitude); (2) Guard your time (plan your day in advance & triage your calendar; (3) Sharpen your focus (disconnect from distractions, touch emails only once); and (4) Stretch your “no” muscle (no explanation needed).
I could go on and on, ad nauseum. But I won’t.
The point is that if you are actually going to DO the work to which you feel you’ve been CALLED, the first order of business is to manage YOU. I’ve offered a lot of suggestions in this blog for strategies and products that work for me, including Evernote for managing digital information and Nozbe for tracking projects and tasks. (I like these two apps because they work together and with Google Calendar and Gmail so seamlessly). The aforementioned books contain a plethora of great suggestions for being healthier, happier and more productive both at home and at work. The real message here is to try some things and, once you find what works for you, stick with it. What hangs in the balance is whether your organization and mine are able to deliver on their missions. A lot of people are depending for better lives on our ability to manage US.
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